09 August 2010

The battle for conflict resolution: graduate training vs. the real world

A new report by the U.S. Institute of Peace helps explain a lot of my recent(?) career woes.  The results are from a study commissioned to examine the correlations between graduate study and actual careers in the international peace and conflict work.  The results, however, are a little grim.  The first summary bullet really gets you:
Graduate-level academic institutions are not adequately preparing students for careers in international peace and conflict management. Curricula need to incorporate more applied skills, cross-sectoral coursework, and field-experience opportunities.
The report goes on to outline the crucial differences between academics' views of what their graduates should know compared to employers' views of what their staff should be capable of doing.  Let's just say these two things don't match up terribly well.  Part of the problem, according to the authors, is that the international conflict resolution field is relatively new, and that the primarily development oriented agencies and funders that are doing this work don't necessarily understand how conflict resolution works or what its underpinnings are and how it changes their long-established games.  

But there are some core issues here too, primarily (in my view) the lack of adequate field training/experience building that students need to get jobs in the profession.  I was actually lucky enough to get some brief field experience, and even so, you can't exactly say I roll in the conflict resolution world at my current job.  Here's your money quote:  
Students face a perpetual Catch-22. Employers want applicants with field experience, but if all employers want this, how are students to get their first experience? Although all programs provide some opportunities for field experience, in general, opportunities are few and far between for people to gain experience abroad, especially hands-on work in conflict areas, whether focused on development practice or directly on conflict resolution practice, and also whether through their academic program, other institutions, or on their own. A significant related obstacle for most students is the lack of funding to enable their travel abroad, especially for unpaid work.
That, to me, is a much bigger issue than whether or not someone can actually comprehend USAID created gobbledygook-speak, which one can probably (if not grudgingly) learn on one's own.  Like I said, I managed to get some field experience while in grad school, and several of my classmates got loads of it.  But we were still relatively young, and at the end, many of us struggled to find work even remotely related to what we studied.  

This raises another, essential question that the USIP report does not address:  What is the demand for an international conflict resolution graduate student?  Is the supply of conflict-sensitive people currently larger than the demand?  There's some hint of that in the report, but it's not really explored.  Or, alternatively, are the senior decision makers that allocate resources and set staffing not yet adequately aware of the need for/value of having conflict sensitive people on their teams (this is alluded to much more fully in the report).  I guess for me, as a young professional, I want to see people with crazy little peacenik grad degrees get jobs in our field, or at least quite close to it, within a reasonable amount of time after graduating.  As it stands, it seems that there are several catch-22s that get in the way.

ETA:  Inside Higher Ed has coverage of the report, and additional perspectives, here.  

1 comment:

Mike Thomas said...

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Mike Thomas